August 3, 2010

Ruhiyyih Khanum’s links with Africa

The first time she touched African soil was in July 1923, when she accompanied her mother, May Maxwell, on pilgrimage. During that summer, when she was just thirteen, they spent a few months in Egypt in the north of Africa. But the first time Amatu'l-Baha actually travelled in this continent was in 1940 with Shoghi Effendi himself and with her father. Mr. Maxwell had been invited by the beloved Guardian to live in Haifa after the passing of his wife, but soon after he joined them in Rome they were cut off from the Holy Land by the events of World War II. The Mediterranean Sea was closed to the Allies and Shoghi Effendi decided to sail to South Africa; from here he and Ruhiyyih Khanum drove overland most of the way from Cape Town to Cairo and so on to the Holy Land. It was this historic journey, in the company of the beloved Guardian himself, which was her first real introduction to Africa.

Then, in 1958, barely two months after the untimely passing of Shoghi Effendi, Amatu'l-Baha, who had been earlier designated by our beloved Guardian as his special representative at the Intercontinental Conference in Kampala, arrived in Uganda. That was the first of the four such Conferences held to celebrate the midway point of the Ten Year Crusade. This was a most poignant and unforgettable event in the lives of all those who attended the Kampala Conference. The Baha'is of the world had been plunged into sorrow and bewilderment. Hearts were turned to the Hands of the Cause of God for comfort and assurance, and especially to the grief-stricken, lonely lady who was the Guardian's consort and helpmate, his shield and his loving wife. We looked towards her not only for solace but, above all, for a cue for what to do. For she was the one person in the Baha'i world we felt could understand our grief. She had not only lost her Guardian, the Sign of God on earth, but her beloved husband, her all in this world. And she arose to the challenge of this double-edged blow with an exemplary degree of devotion, of loyalty, of single-mindedness and love towards the multitude of us heartbroken believers. She subdued her personal sorrows in order to revive and galvanize us with all the force of her character. In return, she was immersed in an ocean of love, but it was the deep affection of the African believers which especially touched her at that time. That, indeed, was a healing to her aching heart.

During her visit to Africa in 1958 she could only spare one night in the village of Opot in Teso, Uganda, but promised to return. Three years later she was back in Kampala for the dedication of the Mother Temple of Africa in 1961. This time she was able to stay longer and spent a few weeks visiting villages in parts of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. Although the pressing duties of the Custodians of the Cause called her back to the World Centre, the Baha’is present at the dedication of the Temple pleaded with her to stay. She promised them then that as soon as it was possible, she would return to Africa and tour that continent. The opportunity did not arise until the summer of 1969.

On July 23rd, 1969, Amatu'l-Baha Ruhiyyih Khanum left her home in Haifa and did not return there until April 4th, 1973 --three years, eight months and eleven days later! She left Africa three times in the course of this protracted journey in order to attend important Conventions and conferences at the request of the Universal House of Justice, and so the actual time she spent on the continent of Africa was two years, three months and fourteen days! 
(Adapted from ‘The Great African Safari’, by Violette Nakhjavani)